Cricket: Smart start dissipated by England: Atherton provides resolute opening stand with Ramprakash but Leeward Islands' pacemen induce a middle-order collapse

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The Independent Online
IT IS perhaps just as well for a young side to get an early introduction to the facts of life about West Indian cricket. Whenever four fast bowlers are operating, a gentle cruise is never too far away from a frantic launching of the lifeboats.

Against this type of opposition, one wicket is often the first pebble in an avalanche, and from 105 for 0 yesterday, England subsided to 231 for 8 in reply to the Leeward Islands' 181. It is still a useful position, but having to bat last on a pitch of dubious bounce makes it a long way from the impregnable one that was on the cards when Mike Atherton and Mark Ramprakash were compiling a three-figure opening partnership.

England's problems were partly the result of good bowling, and partly self-induced. Graham Thorpe and the out-of-form Nasser Hussain were both caught behind off indifferent shots, but these were strokes of high pedigree compared to the hideous head-up swish that produced a five-ball duck for Graeme Hick.

'Crap' was Keith Fletcher's unambiguous description, which if anything was a little on the generous side. Were Hick to be judged on his batting alone, and not for his occasional off-spin and safe catching hands, he would be by no means a certainty for the first Test.

Atherton, who made a typically resolute 77 in a shade over four hours, played pretty well and struck nine boundaries, but not all of them were off the middle, and his hairy moments included being struck on the forearm guard when he ducked away from a short one from Hamesh Anthony, and he twice almost played on to Vaughn Walsh.

Walsh's nickname of 'Hungry' apparently stems from when he was in nappies, and wolfed down vast quantities of rusk and mashed banana. Nowadays, though, he looks as though he exists on half a Ryvita a week. He barely comes up to Curtly Ambrose's navel yet still generates remarkable pace from a fast arm action. Atherton confessed to feeling a little strange batting against someone who looked like an Indian leg spinner, yet who pinged it down faster than most people he has faced.

Atherton, who reached 50 with a thick-edged drive just out of gully's reach, was finally out to an identical shot that this time flew straight to the fielder, and only Ramprakash matched his captain for head-down application, batting for close on two and a half hours for his 41.

The most entertaining batting came from Matthew Maynard, who struck four boundaries and looked in beautiful form until his innings was cut short by a dodgy lbw decision.

Meanwhile, the first 'neutral' umpires to officiate in an England Test series were named yesterday, Tony Robinson of Zimbabwe, India's Srini Venkataraghavan and Darryl Hair of Australia. Robinson stands in the first Test in Jamaica, Venkat in the second and third in Guyana and Trinidad, and Hair in the fourth and fifth in Barbados and Antigua.

As far as England are concerned, they will be hoping that the presence of non-local umpires will shrink the odds on a recurrence of what happened on the 1990 tour in Barbados, when the tourists were convinced that Vivian Richards' war dance from first slip to mid-on (via midwicket) pressured Lloyd Barker into giving Robert Bailey out caught behind off what television replays revealed was his thigh pad.

Robinson officiated in the 1992 World Cup in Australasia, to generally good reviews, and while Venkat's finger rarely remained in its holster when England were batting in the first and third Tests in India last winter, this was down to the incompetence of the practitioners rather than the adjudicator.

Hair is unofficially regarded as Australia's No 1 umpire, although the South Africans may not share this view after the events during the second Test in Adelaide earlier this week. In a match that Australia won to level the three-match series, Peter Kirsten, the veteran South African batsman, was reported for dissent by Hair in both innings, which cost Kirsten 65 per cent of his match fee. The match also ended with some damage to the visiting dressing- room, which was thought to be not unconnected to the South Africans' modest opinion of the umpire.

Leeward Islands 181; England 231-8

SCOREBOARD

(Second day of four; Leeward Islands won toss)

LEEWARD ISLANDS - First Innings 181 (C W Walwyn 65).

ENGLAND - First Innings

(Overnight: 19 for 0)

*M A Atherton c Phillip b Weekes. . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

M R Ramprakash lbw b Anthony. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

G P Thorpe c Jacobs b Maynard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11

G A Hick c Jacobs b Maynard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

N Hussain c Jacobs b Weekes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

M P Maynard lbw b Walsh. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

R C Russell not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19

C C Lewis b Phillip. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

I D K Salisbury lbw b Anthony. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

A R Caddick not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

Extras (b5 lb5 w8 nb15). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33

Total (for 8). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231

Fall: 1-105 2-127 3-128 4-156 5-169 6-201 7-216 8-226

To bat: S L Watkin.

Bowling: Walsh 18-1-68-1; Weekes 15-4-35-2; Phillip 21-7-40-1; Maynard 12-2-47-2; Anthony 15-7-31-2.

Umpires: P Whyte and J Stevens.

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